boboism

‘Gesture ethics’ – the logic of boboism…

Isaac Mostovicz writes...

As the Western World becomes ever more socially aware, if often inactive, the desire to ‘do good’ and help others is increasingly prominent in the minds of the middle and upper classes. But how do they square these social ideals with their thirst for personal differentiation and public display?

With media coverage of illness and deprivation forever shining into the living rooms of the moneyed classes, (from the flat, wide, HD screens that decorate their walls), a new class of consumption has emerged–and a new mindset: Boboism.

This combination of the Bourgeois and Bohemian ideologies is explored by David Brooks in his book, Bobos in Paradise; (Imagine the 60s meets the 80s, in search of a middle way). David claims that creativity and rebelliousness are as integral to economic success as natural resources and finance capital – you can be (or at least you can FEEL) both socially engaged and overtly successful.

The ‘New’ luxury that Bobos are seeking is increasing defined by the experience not the product, if the experience provokes guilt, it becomes negative. Embedded in the psychology of the consumer is a need to ‘do good’, which in turn makes them ‘feel good’. If the luxury market is about experience and feeling, then this becomes a key issue for its success.

An example from Danziger’s ‘Let Them Eat Cake’ – an American nonprofit organization ‘Ten Thousand Villages’ has marketed products collected from around the developing world, paying the artists or creators a fair wage, and selling back in America at a more elevated price than its competitors. It sells by advertising its fair trading practices – therefore setting them apart from cheaper, ‘immoral’ rivals.

The same principles can be seen in The Body Shop and Starbucks – humanitarian, environmental and fair-trade practices are fundamental standards; their success can be seen just by walking down any high street.

It is not only the price tag that makes these products worthy of the luxury market, it is the inescapable presence of a wonderful consumer experience – in the case of Ten Thousand Villages–you leave with a uniquely hand-crafted aboriginal mask (whether to your taste or not), and the knowledge that you, single-handedly, have just made a difference to the life of someone less fortunate – this makes you feel good, makes you look good, and ultimately provides you with a luxury consumer experience.

However, if these principles were entirely straight-forward, and the luxury consumer psychology that simplistic, Oxfam would be the first port of call for visiting celebrities, not Harrods!

Perhaps the occasional ‘do-good’ purchase offsets our indulgence elsewhere…
Not so much gesture politics, as gesture ethics

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